Quebec City police officers distribute tickets to homeless people for possession of drug use equipment even though the health network gives them this type of equipment free of charge for health purposes.
Between 2013 and 2022, no less than 252 offense notices were given for possession of “drug consumption equipment[s] » by the Quebec City Police Department.
It was the team of Céline Bellot, director of the Profiling Observatory at the University of Montreal, who realized this as part of broader research on the “judicialization of homelessness”.
She simply couldn’t believe it. “It’s so contrary to public health. How can such an offense exist in municipal regulations? »
The professor of social work recalls that “Public Health distributes materials so that people can consume safely in terms of hepatitis, HIV, etc. ” and that “there is a scientific consensus that equipment must be distributed.”
The Quebec Regional Public Health Department also offers the Access to Sterile Injection Equipment Program, which aims to prevent people from contracting infections by injecting or inhaling drugs with used and soiled equipment.
Since 2021, drug users in the region have also had access to a supervised injection center, the Interzone, which is co-managed by the SABSA Cooperative and the Integrated Health and Social Services Center of the Capitale-Nationale.
Joined by The duty, SABSA staff said they were aware that tickets for possession of consumer equipment are sometimes issued. “It happened twice,” explains street worker Marie-Christine Leclerc. In one of the two cases, the person received the infraction report while leaving the supervised injection center which distributes clean equipment in Saint-Roch. The equipment was seized and the fine exceeded $200.
The speaker emphasizes, however, that the police officers in question did not belong to the Multi team of the Quebec City Police Department, which works on a daily basis with people on the street.
The Regional Public Health Directorate, for its part, claims to be aware of the existence of the article of law “prohibiting in a public place or in a street the possession of any object, material or equipment used for consumption of an illicit drug. However, she argues that it was not reported to her that this regulation constituted “a major obstacle” to the distribution of materials and that her collaboration with the Police Department is “excellent”.
“Alarming” increase in findings
The data on findings for possession of equipment appear in a much larger study on the judicialization of homelessness in Quebec, the results of which were made public on Thursday.
Céline Bellot’s team has been documenting this subject in Quebec since the mid-1990s. Previous studies have shown that judicialization was also on the rise in the metropolis. She also documented fines given during the pandemic for non-compliance with health measures.
This new study on Quebec reports an “alarming increase”, between 2000 and 2021, in the number of infraction tickets per year given to homeless people. Thus, from 71 in 2000, this number increased to 1577 in 2021, which corresponds to a multiplication by 22.
The most common reasons for arrest are drunkenness or consumption of alcohol in public spaces as well as loitering.
Full data for 2022 is not yet available, but Mme Bellot expects them to be significantly higher than those of 2021. The year 2021, she argues, is an anomaly because a good part of the police officers’ time was taken up by something else, namely application of measures such as the curfew put in place that year. In fact, the previous year, in 2020, the number of findings rose to 2,338.
Furthermore, while the number of reports issued to homeless people increased, it evolved differently in the population as a whole, “having even experienced a decrease in 2020”.
If we rely on the 2022 count, people experiencing homelessness account for less than 1% of the population. However, in 2021, this small population received more than 15% of all reports issued in the territory. The authors see this as proof of the existence of a form of “social profiling”.
Moratorium on imprisonment violated
The publication of this data comes in a context where the homeless population is increasing significantly, in the capital as elsewhere. Between 2018 and 2022, it increased from 525 to 927 people, according to the latest count (+73%).
Helping homeless people is a priority for Bruno Marchand’s administration, which has made it its mission to reduce the number of homeless people in the city by 50%.
His predecessor Régis Labeaume created a program in 2012 to reduce the judicialization of marginalized populations, the IMPAC project (Multi-sectoral intervention support program at the municipal court of the City of Quebec).
However, Céline Bellot’s team mentions in its research that this initiative had little impact on the homeless.
She also noted that the City’s moratorium on the imprisonment of people experiencing homelessness is not always respected.
This moratorium was adopted in 2018 following the publication of an article in the daily newspaper The sun about a former homeless woman, mother of two young children, who had to serve time in prison for unpaid infraction tickets. In 2021, three years after the moratorium came into force, the cases of five people experiencing homelessness had reached the imprisonment stage.